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City Guide
Life in Birmingham

Let’s not kid ourselves: The consensus among those who’ve never lived in Alabama – or at least visited it– is that the state is nothing but a giant backwoods farmland filled with dudes in cut-off tees who drive around in their Confederate flag-covered pickup trucks all day blaring “Free Bird.” Then they go home, crack open a fresh can of whatever light beer was on sale at the local Piggly Wiggly that day, and sit down on their couches (which are situated on their front lawns, of course) to watch NASCAR races that they taped on their circa-1983 VCRs.

Such depictions of ‘Bama may make for comedy gold, but the truth is that metropolitan Birmingham in the 21st century is home to more than 1.1 million residents who hail from various walks of life and enjoy all the amenities of a modern big city. Formerly a hub for the agricultural and steel industries only, Birmingham is now a hotspot for the healthcare, financial, and publishing businesses as well. Three of the state’s major law schools are located within city limits, in addition to the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the UAB School of Medicine, and various other private and public universities, which combine to give parts of the city a strong collegiate vibe.

The city is also dotted with numerous parks, trails, art galleries, nightlife venues, ethnic restaurants, an opera house, symphony orchestra, and various museums including the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and Kelly Ingram Park, which pay tribute to past residents who dedicated their lives to the struggle for racial equality. Bottom line: If you show up in Birmingham expecting to find some barely-modernized episode of Hee Haw going on around you, you’re in store for a mighty case of culture shock.

Jobs and the Mighty Dollar Bill

Because the city’s cost of living rate is so low (17 percentage points lower than the average American city), Birmingham is an ideal stomping grounds for careerists looking to settle down, build up a bankroll, and stash away some greenbacks in the process. The city has become a hotbed in recent years for white-collar professionals in the medical, insurance, and financial industries, many of whom live in the plethora of budget-friendly rentals in the B’ham ‘burbs and commute to the inner city for work each day.

We don’t want to send you into Birmingham under false pretenses, though (wow, aren’t we sweet!), so you should probably know that “Magic City” isn’t quite so magical for all those in the workforce. Certain parts of the city are rather destitute, and nearly a quarter of Birmingham residents live under the poverty line. So use that world-famous common sense of yours and make sure you have a reliable gig lined up in Birmingham before scouring the land for your dream dwellings.

Traffic, traffic, and traffic

Have we mentioned traffic?

Because basically everyone in Birmingham who lives outside the downtown area drives his or her own car, rush hour traffic can be a soul-sucking, white-knuckling, hair-pulling, fist-shaking, middle finger-waving misadventure. Try traveling east on Hwy 80 around five o’clock, for instance, and you might find yourself jealous of the slugs crawling by at a pace much quicker than your own. Likewise, it won’t take long for you to realize why locals have dubbed the I-59/I-65 interchange “Malfunction Junction.” Public transportation (the MAX city buses and DART trolleys) is available, but it’s only a reasonable option if you’re bumming around the inner city, so make sure you bring your own car to Birmingham, and plan on spending an hour or two inside it on most days.

In recent years, the downtown area has seen an increase in high-end lofts and condos, while the areas immediately surrounding the eclectic, artsy Five Points South district remain popular locales for leasers as well. Some of the more desireable suburban neighborhoods include Mountain Brook, Homewood, and Hoover, where renters can typically find quality apartments and freestanding houses for rent in the $600-$800 range.

Tips for Tenants

Apartments and other rental units are easy as mom’s apple pie to find in Birmingham, so take your time and shop the market before settling on your future lodgings. Waiting lists are pretty much nonexistent, but if you do come across one, you might want to just shrug it off, because it won’t be difficult to find something comparable. Whether you’re in the market for a basic studio pad, a luxurious flat loaded with flash and dazzle, or anything in between, you’ll have no shortage of options in Birmingham.

In addition to apartments, condos, and townhouses, single family detached homes are readily available in Birmingham. Boring but meaningful stat alert: Just 47 percent of the city’s residents are homeowners, but freestanding houses account for 61 percent of all residential buildings. It doesn’t take a math degree from UAB to realize those numbers add up to good news for renters who’d prefer four walls to call their own (at least temporarily!).

Different landlords throughout town have different rules regarding pets (most allow them, but some don’t), subletting, and roommates, so before you visit an apartment, call ahead to get some preliminary info. And be on the lookout for move-in specials, which frequently pop up especially around the UAB/Five Points/Southside areas. Rental prices obviously differ depending on size, location, and amenities, but the typical 1-2BR unit in Birmingham goes for between $500-$800 and lucky leasers can even find a few furnished luxury pads in a similar price range.

And now you’re all set to start the journey for your dream digs. So welcome to Birmingham, enjoy some grits and hominy while you’re down here, and happy hunting!